business school, higher education

The New MBA in a Virtual World (and Why it’s Worth it)

In a previous post, I weighed the worth of today’s MBA. A lot has changed since then, like COVID-19 making the world a truly virtual one, where even top business schools are fully virtual or employing a hybrid face-to-face/virtual classroom setting. That has become a game-changer in how prospective students look at an MBA, but it wasn’t unpredictable.

The forces were well underway pre-pandemic, with schools putting more and more resources into their online programs, and many top-flight business schools who viewed themselves as being “above” virtual degrees have since joined the fray. Michigan, Northwestern, Duke and UVA are all perennial top 10 business schools that recently started to offer online MBA’s. Of course, theirs are far more expensive (all in excess of $100k), but it still speaks to a much larger trend.

Illinois’ Gies College of Business may have been the first major university to go all-in on the online MBA, discontinuing its full-time, in-person MBA. Illinois found, like many other schools, that applications for its full-time MBA were dropping precipitously. They decided to do something about it, offering a new model that only a few schools have seemed to adopt in the meantime. Illinois’ online MBA costs $22,000, a truly disruptive price for a top 50 business school. Not to be outdone, Boston University’s Questrom School of Business started its online MBA in August 2020.

BU costs a similar $24,000 and these two are the only schools I know of that have highly-ranked and respected programs (with high average starting salaries post-graduation) to offer an affordable MBA. The disruption is obvious when you’re quickly able to minimize the cost/student loan perspective by $80-100k when compared to other top-flight business schools offering an online MBA.

When you add in the fact that even many students at top-flight full-time schools are not in-person, it becomes all the more obvious how much of a slam dunk this offering is. After COVID, in-person schools may truly be in a world of hurt when students find it more difficult than ever to establish any discernible difference or added value to an in-person degree (when taking into account all of the obvious drawbacks, like opportunity cost) and the more students know successful friends and colleagues with online degrees.

I don’t think it’s insane to say that the full-time MBA may be a thing of the past except for top-tier/Ivy League schools, as even many of them are starting to offer similar programs.

I am only a few weeks into my first semester at BU, choosing the latter as I felt it had a stronger brand and network locally (I am in NYC) and nationally. I am already loving the professors and course offerings. It is far more groupwork than I expected, and we switch groups every semester, allowing us to meet as many people in our cohort as possible.

I couldn’t be happier with my situation and hope more prospective degree-seekers offer to do the same in the future. If you don’t get a newer, higher-paying job you aren’t saddled with debt, and at the end of the day it offers plenty of potential both internally (with networking connections and opportunities from classmates and professors) and externally, as a resume-booster with the potential to stand out in a crowded field.

business, business school, higher education, marketing

Is Getting Your MBA Worth It?

You Be the Judge

In a word, no, it isn’t. I will qualify that statement I promise.

In a world where seemingly everyone and their mother has an advanced degree (my mother does not have an advanced degree) people can often feel compelled to pursue degrees just because everyone else has them. “I feel stuck and Suzy is really advancing her career, maybe this is what I need”.

It can be easy to daydream about what your life and career could be like, and how much easier getting your dream job could become if you had an MBA.

But it’s important to consider some other things first. I did this once and it really helped me to see the potential weight an MBA holds. I pictured myself as the hiring manager for the job I wanted.

I then pictured how the MBA (with school and graduating class) would look on my resume and on my LinkedIn profile. And I thought, would I hire me for this highly competitive job that I’m unqualified for today if I had my MBA?

And the answer wasn’t so cut-and-dry. I didn’t go to a name brand school and haven’t worked at any name-brand jobs. People like what they know (whether it be people or brands they’re familiar with) and if you have one or both it certainly a step in the right direction. Since I have neither, I thought an MBA (leaving out the Ivy League and similar upper-echelon MBA’s) would help, but still not push me to the top of the pile.

That being said, let’s get more specific. The rates of people applying to business school fell drastically this past year, for many of the reasons that I will lay out. Some of the hardest hit schools, like Rice, had applications fall by over 27%. In the articles I read, they cited strong job growth and steady wages as the rationale for this trend. I see it differently.

The real thing that people weren’t seeing is the value. No, the quality of an MBA education hasn’t deteriorated (sure, there wasn’t always the for-profit University of Phoenix money-suckers way back when), but rather the cost of an MBA has drastically risen with no clear reasoning or value proposition behind it.

Universities at the undergrad level had remained virtually unaffected by this up until the last few years, where college alternatives have become more palatable to the ever-rising rates of college well above inflation.

The truth is, MBA programs haven’t become THAT much better at landing you your dream job than they were 10-15 years ago, yet the price increases suggest that they have. Nor have they become THAT much better at creating entrepreneurs or helping you make millions.

Rather, along with the universities at large, they’ve become adept at creating mountains of student debt loans that will affect the economy for years.

This brings me to my main point. The value of an MBA comes down to one word: justification. Can you justify what you spent on your MBA compared to what you got out of it?

This is where it gets even simpler to me. If you have an employer pay for some (or all) of your MBA, then there is your answer.

You are paying nothing, or next to it, and if you don’t get insane value out of your MBA and it just boosts your resume/profile enough to land you another job, or maybe not even to that extent, then you will still sit content knowing that you are better off having it considering what you had to put into it.

However, that is not everyone’s reality, and more realistically it’s not the vast majority of job seekers’ realities. They have to do a much more thorough cost-benefit analysis.

The questions that surface are:

  • How expensive is this MBA on average
  • How much will my new college’s network help me to land my next job (relative to another school’s)
  • How much more will I make as a result of my MBA, and how far will it go to off-set my debt

These questions are very difficult to answer, and even with the right data can be impossible to know for sure. You can find stats about the percentage of graduates that find a job within six months of graduation, and also the average starting salary of graduates at your school’s program.

However, no one else is you and no one has your exact job (or maybe they do I work at an extremely small company). The point is, you haven’t done it yet, and assuming that one person’s experience will be yours isn’t fair or rational to assume.

Unless you go to an Ivy League school, throw all of this advice out the window. Is it worth every penny at those schools if you can get in (even with no discount)?

I don’t know, but my gut says yes due to the life-changing litany of decision-makers you can become on a first-name basis with.

Even then, tread lightly and know exactly what you want and who you need to know before making such a life-altering decision.

Let me know what you think, is an MBA worth it? Did you get one? Are you satisfied with the return on your investment?